The 5 Most Secretly Badass Countries


Thanks to Hollywood and NPR's foreign correspondents, most of us think we have a good idea of how each country's military works. China is scary, the U.S. patrols the world, the Middle Eastern countries only have armies big enough to fight each other, and everyone else just keeps the guns around for parades.

But there are some countries that never turn up in war movies or video games that you still wouldn't want to mess with. For instance ...

Switzerland Is One Big Explosive Booby Trap

The 5 Most Secretly Badass Countries

We usually think of Switzerland as a tiny little snowy postcard of a country. Want to buy some watches, fine chocolate, or neutrality? Go to Switzerland. Want to buy military aggression? Try the 1930s Germany Store, because you're not going to find it among the Swiss.

The 5 Most Secretly Badass Countries
Frederic J. Brown

You can't blitz with this, let alone krieg.

The Reality

If you're wondering how Switzerland can remain famously neutral, there are several reasons, but let's start with this: The entire country is rigged to blow.

There are at least 3,000 points of demolition built into bridges, highways, and railroads throughout the nation. And those are just the ones acknowledged by the government. Some of those beautiful mountains are hollow enough to fit whole military divisions. There are cannons hidden in houses -- just waiting, just begging for the chance to kill someone. There are man-made rock slides waiting for the trigger. And all of these Wile E. Coyote traps weren't just set up and abandoned after World War II -- civil engineers undergo regular drills all the time. You know, just in case.

The 5 Most Secretly Badass Countries

"C'mon, Germany ... see what happens!"

What we're trying to say is that Switzerland is like that quiet kid in the back of class who you just don't fuck with because he knows muay thai and has a weird twitch. Oh, and he has a lot of guns. In Switzerland, every man is required to join the military once he hits 19. That in itself isn't too weird; lots of countries have compulsory conscription. What's different about Switzerland is that once discharged from basic training, everyone takes their weapons home with them. They have to. It's the law. And they can keep those guns forever, which is one reason why the only two countries that have more firearms per capita than Switzerland are the United States (no surprise there) and Yemen. Not that we can get accurate numbers, because gun registration isn't a thing in Switzerland.

The 5 Most Secretly Badass Countries
Sven Nackstrand / Getty

"What, because you always register your computer?"

Why couldn't someone just bomb them into submission? Well, the country has spent the last 50 years building bomb shelters, for one. Beginning in 1963, every household was required to build its own shelter in case of nuclear attack. In fact, by the 1980s, the Swiss could shelter up to 83 percent of the population underground should the U.S. and USSR lose their shit. Which is so cute, because American funding for fallout shelters ceased altogether in the mid-1960s.

So when the aliens finally come and try to take over, we should just mutually agree to send them to Switzerland first.

The 5 Most Secretly Badass Countries

"Well, if you wanna conquer the Earth, the first thing to conquer is a steaming mug of Swiss hot chocolate!"

Canada's Secret Forces Are Great at Murdering Terrorists

The 5 Most Secretly Badass Countries

O Canada, you're so adorable with your maple syrup and hockey and "Eh"s and moose. You're like North America's great big fuzzy John Candy-shaped teddy bear.

The 5 Most Secretly Badass Countries

We don't understand poutine at all, but, darn it, that just makes you cuter.

The Reality

Canada's special operations unit is like a bear alright -- a stealthy grizzly bear that has mastered modern weapons and can silently kill you in the night (so we guess it's more like a group of highly trained humans, which it is, so just ignore the whole bear thing). Not only does Canada have a military, which in itself is probably a surprise to some people, but their anti-terrorist unit is one of the best in the world ... a world that never ever attacks Canada.

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Nazim Kadri / Getty

"Try us, hosers!"

Joint Task Force 2 started out in the 1990s as sort of bodyguards for Canadian politicians and diplomats. By 2001, they had the chops to participate in the war in Afghanistan -- secretly. Forty elite JTF2 soldiers worked alongside U.S. forces and took out about 100 high-ranking Taliban and al-Qaida leaders. The Canadian public didn't even know they were there until someone accidentally published their Joint Task Force pictures, but credited them as Americans.

The 5 Most Secretly Badass Countries
Spencer Wynn / Toronto Star

Eh, same continent.

The JTF2 were especially valued for their cold-weather training when it came time to coordinate Afghan mountain missions. That's not a joke -- the Canadians were literally cold-weather specialists. They're also valued as stone cold killers. One expert put it this way:

"What they do is infiltrate into dangerous areas behind enemy lines, look for key targets, and take them out. They don't go out to arrest people. They don't go out there to hand out food parcels. They go out to kill targets."

Are you hearing that in Liam Neeson's voice? No? Read it again.

The Vietnamese Had a Killer Air Force

The 5 Most Secretly Badass Countries

Thanks to Oliver Stone, Stanley Kubrick, and your granddad's night terrors, we all have a pretty good idea of what the Vietnam War looked like. There were lots of guys wading through rice paddies, tramping through the jungle, running to choppers, and passing doobies. And we might have won if not for those pesky jungle fighters, the primitive Viet Cong, armed with nothing but AK-47s and crude booby traps.

The 5 Most Secretly Badass Countries

Young Macaulay Culkin could've taken out a whole armored regiment.

The Reality

Sure, much of the Vietnam War was fought in the muck, but a whole damn lot of it was fought in the air ... where the Vietnamese were really, really good.

So good, in fact, that the real-world training program portrayed in Top Gun was started to deal with the Vietnamese Air Force. Not the Nazis. Not the Soviets. The Vietnamese. Which is especially impressive considering that they didn't form their first squadron until 1964. By 1965, Vietnamese planes had claimed their first victory -- one that pitted eight Russian-built MiGs against 79 American planes. And the clunky MiGs shot down two F-105s. And that was before the Vietnamese got slick new MiG-21s from Uncle Brezhnev.

The 5 Most Secretly Badass Countries

Somebody translate "Danger Zone" into Vietnamese.

By the end of the war, the top American ace had six kills, while the top Vietnamese had nine. And more than that, the Americans only had three aces in the entire war. Vietnam had 17. When all was said and done, the Vietnamese lost a total of 131 planes. The Americans lost over 2,000. This killer record ranked Vietnam as one of the most successful air forces in the world, coming behind only the USA, the USSR, and Israel.

Brazilian Police Are Urban Warfare Specialists

The 5 Most Secretly Badass Countries
Antonio Scorza / Getty

There's a lot more to Brazil than just soccer, bikini waxes, and Carnivale. For example, slums. The poorest shanty towns, known as favelas, are home to 11 million people and very few city services. And what residents lack in running water, toilets, electricity, and access to food they make up for with drug lords and one of the world's highest crime rates.

Eleicoes 2008

So it all balances out.

So one could go from thinking of Brazil as a year-round Mardi Gras to picturing it as a lawless hellhole -- especially if you've played the Favela level in Modern Warfare 2. Shit, you know things have gone south when your town gets its own FPS multiplayer map.

The Reality

The Brazilian police are really serious about keeping Brazil's poorest neighborhoods from becoming a real-life violent video game. While your local neighborhood cop drives around a shitty Crown Vic, Brazilian forces drive around in fucking tanks:

The Brigade

"It corners like Chief Wiggum."

That is Rio's Batalhao de Operacoes Policiais Especiais, or BOPE. Their badges don't have some stupid star on them -- they look like Hell's Angels badges.

The 5 Most Secretly Badass Countries
Alexandre de Souza, Millitar Police

Although once you start seeing it as a skull with pigtails, you can't unsee it.

BOPE policemen have to pass a training regimen similar to what Navy SEALs and Green Berets have to go through, extensively training in urban warfare operations. And despite their intimidating presence, BOPE officers are only a part of a larger pacification program, and they consider themselves the bringers of peace. For example, it took 3,000 officers and soldiers to clear the bad guys out of the 80,000 strong Rocinha slum.

The 5 Most Secretly Badass Countries
Vanderlei Almeida / Getty

"We got the perp, but his clothes didn't survive the encounter."

That's 3,000 personnel with tanks, snipers, helicopters, and months of planning for what basically ended in an internal military occupation.

And it worked. When BOPE and their tanks leave, the Police Pacification Unit takes over. These guys are part police, part social workers, and they're there to keep the drug thugs from returning, and to help make the favelas a little more livable. And those guys don't leave. So far Rio has pulled off pacification operations 30 times in 30 different neighborhoods, each now guarded by their own police force.

The 5 Most Secretly Badass Countries
Christophe Simon / Getty

Otherwise known as "army."

Still, we're going to go out on a limb and recommend that 2016 athletes stick to the Olympic Village during the games.

The African Union Did What Nobody Else Could: Cleaned Up Somalia

The 5 Most Secretly Badass Countries
AFP / Getty

Africa is a big place. Assuming that the whole continent is in a constant state of any one bad thing is like assuming that all Americans wear cowboy hats and play for the NBA. Focus in on Somalia, on the other hand, and most of us have a pretty specific picture of life on the ground. Pirates! Warlords! Drought conditions! Anarchy! It's like Mad Max or, well, any Hollywood movie set in Africa.

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AFP / Getty

Those bullet suspenders are gonna pinch like hell once the kid starts shooting.

Conditions are so bad in Somalia that both the U.N. and the U.S. have been unable to help ... twice. If only someone would come along to clean up the mess.

The Reality

Someone has come along -- someone called Africa. Specifically, the peacekeeping arm of the African Union.

The 5 Most Secretly Badass Countries
Sia Kambou / Getty

Otherwise known as "all the flags."

You could fill a library with books, diagrams, and Web comics trying to explain the situation in Somalia, but in a nutshell, the country suffered under the control of warlords, thugs, and ne'er-do-wells for most of the 1990s. Between 1992 and 1993, the U.N. and the U.S. tried to step up to the plate and get bellies fed. You probably remember the results of their efforts in the form of Black Hawk Down and footage of American bodies getting dragged through Mogadishu. It was not a good time. By the mid-2000s, a new group of al-Qaida extremists were in charge of Mogadishu and people were starving again.

But this time around, the U.N. and U.S. helped through the brand new African Union, a federation of 54 African states created to confront AIDS, malaria, drought, and bad guys running lawless states. Beginning in 2007, troops from Burundi, Nigeria, Malawi, and Uganda pledged to help out, while Tanzania offered to train newly formed Somali troops. It took a while, but within four years, the A.U. kicked the bad guys out of Mogadishu and are now in the process of driving them out of Somalia altogether.

AFP / Getty

"License and registration?"

This wasn't the only success of A.U. forces, either. They staged an Omaha Beach-style invasion of Anjouan Island in 2008, sending rebel leader Mohamed Bacar off the island and fleeing for his life. They were also the only peacekeeping troops in Darfur until 2007, when the U.N. finally got involved. Hell, why can't Bono raise money for these guys?

For more countries we wouldn't want to screw around with, check out 6 National Anthems That Will Make You Tremble With Fear and Fun Size Countries: The Insane Histories of the World's 6 Tiniest Nations.

If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out 4 Works of Propaganda That Prove Dictators Suck at Photoshop.

And stop by LinkSTORM to learn why you should probably stay away from Mounties also.

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